By Sonya Rehman
There’s a very fine line between art and sensationalism. You see, it’s a lot like journalism – the more ‘out there’ and sensationalistic the subject matter, the greater the ‘impact’. From racy themes, wild brushstrokes, loud colours, and scandalous topics, art (like journalism) can often be tainted, exaggerated and made overtly vulgar to rope audiences in.
Infact, the foundation of advertising too, is heavily dependent upon these very factors in today’s day and age – but that’s a whole new (and highly debatable) subject altogether.
So taking the ‘sensationalism sells’ premise into account, it would be kosher to assume that many artists and writers alike are of the unfortunate notion that: ‘even bad publicity is good publicity’…which is downright silly if you think about it.
When Van Gogh sliced one of his ear’s off, he did it primarily out of an eccentric need…it’s not as if he went strolling around town, pointing at his chopped ear, saying: “Lookie here, isn’t this a masterpiece?”
But masochistic artists aside, the act of harming – physically and emotionally – another human being or an animal, for the sake of ‘art’ is grossly evil.
If an artist feels the need to starve himself or chop one of his limbs off for the sake of ‘art’ – that’s his problem…his body, his life.
But to inflict pain and torture on a living thing, whilst labeling it ‘art’ is an act nothing short of being depraved, twisted and satanic.
Emaciated, fragile, and eyes thick with a glaze of fast-approaching death… ‘Natividad’ (Spanish for ‘Birth’) sits huddled on a cold, hard floor whilst ‘artists’ and so-called ‘art lovers’ saunter through the well-known Codice Gallery in Managua, Nicaragua (during the ‘Visual Arts Biennial of Central America’ exhibition).
So what/who was Natividad? A stray dog that was picked up from the streets by the artist (featured at the exhibition).
For days on end, the dog – without food or water – remained tied to a rope under dog-biscuits which formulated the words: “Eres Lo Que Lees” (“You Are What You Read”). And so as people came and went, all the while nonchalantly looking over at Natividad starving to death…the dog breathed its last.
Thirty-two year old Guillermo Vargas Jimenez, the ‘artist’ of this atrocious display of ‘art’ (which took place in August 2007) felt not an iota of remorse.
And even though a few news websites online have published conflicting stories about whether or not Natividad survived, the artist himself did not confirm nor refute the claim that the stray succumbed to hunger. But whether or not the dog survived, the fact of the matter is that an innocent animal was chained to a wall, to starve for days…as ‘ART’! Unbelievable. The pictures of the exhibition were especially eerie and heart-wrenching – how could spectators at the gallery overlook the dog’s suffering?
Ironic, while Natividad slowly passed away, each onlooker’s conscience died too…and with a nonchalant shrug and turn of the heel, their hearts became set in a rock of insensitivity and apathy.
Thankfully, the ‘World Society for the Protection of Animals’ (WSPA) investigated the case and made sure that the exhibition would never encourage the abuse of animals as forms of ‘art’.
Yet, the question still remains…why did Jimenez feel the ‘need’ to do what he did? Was it done with the main motive of stirring up a controversy to attain maximum media mileage? If not that, then what possibly could the artist be fulfilling rather than a sadistic hunger and deranged madness?
Art is a created ‘thing’ which is essentially pure – pure of expression, wisdom, thought and emotion. It is whole rather than fragmented. Be it a melody, a sonnet, a photograph, or a painting.
Art for the human soul means a dance of balance, a balance which is ethical, just, and thought-provoking. Never harming, never treacherous.
In Jimenez’s case, his subject of a starving dog under the banner of words in dog-food was inherently selfish, cruel and inhumane. But in the final analysis? He got people talking and he got a mini revolution stirred up against him online – where thousands of people signed a petition against him. If Jimenez wanted to make a statement, why didn’t he chain himself to a wall and starve for a week? Why subject a living thing to such inhumane cruelty?
So can Jimenez’s subject be termed as ‘art’? Of course not. It harmed an innocent creature which resulted in its death. Jimenez crossed the line of art and morality.
Unfortunately some artists in this day and age take to the ‘shock and awe’ strategy to sell their work, gain attention and get people talking.
It’s either that, or perhaps an utter boredom and lack of inspiration which propels current artists to produce utter bunk ripe in over the top themes which make no head or tail.
A well-known 20th century writer, G.K Chesterton once said: “Art, like morality, consists in drawing the line somewhere”. Chesterton couldn’t have been more correct.
The Friday Times